What to watch for in 2019 state budget

The state budget is a big focus of the League’s work each year, and often our most viable opportunity for victories for the people and kids of Michigan. And while we were disappointed that lawmakers passed a personal exemption increase, it should not affect this year’s budget as much as earlier proposals (the bigger cuts will be left to future legislators instead).

budgetandmagnifier175-by-116Here are the main things good and bad in—or absent from—Governor Rick Snyder’s 2019 budget that the League is keeping an eye on as the legislative process gets underway. You can learn more about these issues in our “First Look” at the governor’s budget and we will continue to provide updates on our budget page.

thumbs up The Good
  • Continues funding for the “heat and eat” policy that provides increased food assistance to families with low incomes, people with disabilities and seniors.
  • Supports the Healthy Michigan Plan that has provided health insurance for over 675,000 Michigan residents.
  • Provides $5 million for Michigan’s Early On program that identifies and serves infants and toddlers with developmental delays—the first investment of state funds in Michigan’s grossly underfunded early intervention program.
  • Provides a small increase in monthly Family Independence Program income support provided to children in deep poverty after decades of flat funding that pushed families to less than 30% of the federal poverty line.
  • Provides increases of between $120 and $240 per-pupil for the state’s public schools—with additional funding for students in high school or career and technical education.
  • Expands funding for partnerships with school districts that are needing academic supports from $6 million to $8 million.
thumbs down The Bad
  • Continues funding for Michigan’s successful preschool program for at-risk four-year-olds, but does not expand services to three-year-olds from families with low incomes.
  • Fails to expand funding for At-Risk School Aid and the school-based literacy programs needed to prevent the retention of children in third grade, including a disproportionate number of children of color.
  • Does not increase funding for adult education after deep cuts over the last two decades.
  • Leaves in place Michigan’s child care assistance eligibility cutoff, which is one of the lowest in the nation.
  • Diverts School Aid money intended for K-12 public schools to fund the state’s community colleges—rather than securing adequate General Fund revenues for post-secondary education.
  • Does not restore financial aid for an increasing number of college students who are older and supporting families.
  • Reduces cities, villages and townships (CVT) and county revenue sharing payments, neither of which have received full statutory funding in nearly two decades, so that many communities would either receive decreased CVT and county revenue sharing payments or no payment at all.
question mark The Absent

The League will keep pushing for these priorities in the coming months, and advocate for racial, ethnic and social justice in all state budget decisions this year and every year. We also encourage you to use our advocacy tips and budget timeline to get involved and speak up for the priorities you believe in.

— Alex Rossman

Facing the realities of child care and work

Twenty-plus years ago when I was the mother of three young children, I worried—like most parents do—about finding child care that I trusted on my budget, as well as how to juggle my job with the inevitable childhood colds, ear infections and bouts of pink eye.

Both seemed like mountains to climb. My first two children were born 14 months apart, so for a period I needed to find infant care for two. High-quality infant care was not only in short supply, but it came at a higher cost. My third child suffered from asthma, so he was frequently sick, changing my work availability without notice.

I was lucky. I had a job that provided me flexibility to deal with child care changes and sick days. My work was largely during standard working hours when there was a greater supply of care options, and I didn’t have children with special needs. I also had the resources to pay for higher-quality child care, which cost more than my mortgage at the time.

But, the reality is that I didn’t know what high-quality child care was at the time. I tried to rely on my uninformed instincts and word of mouth, but I didn’t feel confident that I was doing what was best for my children.

Today, thanks to the work of the Office of Great Start and the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, parents have some tools to evaluate quality in child care settings, including a five-star rating system for child care providers.

MI child care challenges opportunities graph 1Unfortunately, many parents still can’t afford higher-quality child care, and have to rely on informal relationships with neighbors and relatives—many of whom are juggling work, health, financial and other struggles of their own. The cost of child care for two children in a Michigan center exceeds $18,000 per year, consuming over 60% of the wages of a family with income at 150% of poverty ($36,900 annually for a family of four).

The Michigan Legislature recently approved some long-needed increases in child care spending, including funds to boost payments to child care providers—many of whom have such low incomes that they are themselves eligible for some forms of public assistance. Also approved was a small bump in the income eligibility cut-off for child care subsidies (from 125% of poverty to 130%).

This is good news for Michigan families but we have a long way to go. The number of families receiving child care assistance has fallen dramatically, in part because of the state’s stringent income eligibility guidelines and disincentives for providers.

The need for affordable child care remains high. Unemployment has dropped in Michigan and nationwide since the Great Recession, but many of the new jobs come with very low wages. Between June of 2016 and 2017, Michigan was one of only 10 states with declining average weekly wages—adjusted for inflation—for workers in private sector jobs.

In a new Budget Brief, the League outlines needed child care reforms including a further expansion of eligibility and child care practices that provide incentives for providers to care for children who receive a state subsidy.

We can and must invest in child care as a two-generational strategy to ensure that parents can work to support their children, and children have the benefit of a high-quality early learning experiences. Both are critical investments in the state’s future economy and workforce.

— Pat Sorenson